It is appropriate to (re)post my Surf’s Up write-up on Easter Sunday – and a time when we all need “a children’s song.”
Surf’s Up is the centerpiece of SMiLE in many ways- close to the middle of the album and lyrically, the richest track on the album. Indeed there is so much going on lyrically that one could write a dissertation on it. Van Dykes Parks word-play reaches a new level here (“The music-hall – A costly bow/holocaust”) and the very title turns the Beach Boys early surfing roots on its’ head. We’re not playing some superficial ocean sport now, we’re diving into the very reality of human existence.
I believe this is one of the songs that lends itself to individual interpretation but the overall sense to me is someone who has lost their humanity in a superficially opulent situation (represented by the grand opera house), gets close to a breakdown (always been moved by lyrics “a broken man too tough to cry”) and then finds redemption in children and simplicity (“a children’s song”).
Brian’s music makes the song, and there is a spiritual quality to the many soaring musical phrases, and you can really sense the “teenage symphony to God” that Brian said he was trying to put together in this album. There is certainly a religious sense of redemption even although the lyric isn’t specifically spiritual, and musically this is marked by the change as we get to the “Surf’s Up” chorus with the almost wordless sense of wonder and change.
And so, the second movement of SMiLE ends in a sense of wonder, rebirth and astonishment at the cycles of life. What a ride!